Makis Voridis, born in 1964, has been politically active for his entire adult life and the vast majority of his political career has been with groups on the extreme far right. Now he is Greece’s newest Health Minister and one of the most prominent supporters of the reform agenda.
As a high school student at Athens College (a private school and alma mater of many of the country’s business and political elite), he had leadership positions in nationalist student groups. According to a Haaretz article written by another former alumnus of the school, during his time there Voridis had formed a fascist group called ‘Free pupils’ which painted swastikas on the walls and whose members greeted each other saying ‘Heil Hitler’.
— Demi Theodori (@DimitraTheodori) June 9, 2014
A lawyer by trade he graduated Athens University Law School in 1990. As a student Voridis is reported to have formed another fascist group and taken part in street brawls, pursuing and attacking leftist groups. Photos from this period appear to show an axe-wielding Voridis patrolling the streets. Following his graduation he was appointed leader of the youth wing of EPEN – a far-right party founded a year earlier by the jailed leader of the 1967 military coup, Giorgos Papadopoulos – succeeding Nikos Michaloliakos who went on to found the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn which he leads to this day.
In 1994, following his military service, he founded the far-right ‘Hellenic Front’ party inspired in part by the political activity of France’s Jean Marie Le Pen with whom Voridis established close ties. The French ultra-nationalist and anti-semite travelled to Greece several times on Voridis’s invitation, whose wedding Le Pen also attended. Voridis has also participated in National Front rallies in France.
Voridis launched several unsuccessful election campaigns with Hellenic Front campaigning together with Kostas Plevris, an unrepentant fascist and author of several books including the lengthy Jews: the Whole Truth which portrays the Jewish people as natural enemies of the Greeks. In 2005 Hellenic Front then merged with the far-right wing LAOS party led by George Karatzaferis who has a history of xenophobic and anti-semitic comments. In 2007 Voridis was elected an MP with the party.
New Health Min M Voridis attending Front National (Lepen's Party)demo in Paris. He was leader of Greek National Front pic.twitter.com/lN1qhahZs6
— ptsiaras (@ptsiaras) June 9, 2014
— Souidos (@Souidos) June 10, 2014
While never polling higher than the single digits, with the political upheaval in Greece following the collapse of the Papandreou government in 2011, LAOS became part of the ‘national unity’ government led by Lucas Papademos, and Makis Voridis was named Minister of Transport for several months until the general elections of May and June 2012. That period saw LAOS collapse as a political force, tainted by its participation in the pro-memorandum government and haemorrhaging support to the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party. When the LAOS party pulled out of the coalition government Makis Voridis, together with Adonis Georgiadis (who Voridis replaced as Health Minister) jumped ship and moved to the New Democracy party led by Antonis Samaras.
Voridis has since been seen as one of the more dynamic members of New Democracy. Aside from his ability to appeal to far-right voters, Voridis is also charismatic and well connected. He recently represented the newspaper Parapolitika in a defamation case involving influential ship-owner (and president of Olympiakos Athletic Club) Evangelos Marinakis.
Voridis’s move to a more mainstream political force has been accompanied by attempts to put a gentler face on the extreme right wing views he espoused until recently. In an interview with the Guardian in 2011 he referred to his activity with fascist groups as ‘student activism’ and also claimed that he had ‘no problem’ with Jews and homosexuals (describing homosexuality as a ‘personal choice’). He now describes himself as a ‘nationalist liberal’ saying that he is not ‘a crypto-fascist, with a hidden agenda who wants to abolish democracy and human rights’.
However he has hardly been ardent in renouncing the fascist people or parties with whom he had official political ties with until 2005 (and some would say later), leading many to believe that his underlying views have changed little over the years and that his efforts to portray himself as more palatable to centrist voters is little more than political opportunism.
“No Jewish person can be happy about the appointment of a man who was, until two years ago, a head of the extreme right-wing and anti-Semitic LAOS party,” Victor Eliezer, the secretary general of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece was quoted as saying about Voridis’s appointment as Health Minister.
While it has been reported that Voridis has written to the Jewish community, expressing his opposition to Holocaust denial and his commitment to “putting an end to anti-Semitic, racist prejudice which is an outright violation of human dignity,” one would have hoped that such a letter would be unnecessary for a minister in a modern European democracy. Meanwhile there is the ever present shadow of Golden Dawn. Even as the leadership of that group faces prosecution for criminal activities, the presence of far-right elements in the Samaras government only helps legitimize the political activity of the neo-nazis.
But perhaps most dismaying of all is that regardless of what Makis Voridis’s background says about him, and how far to the right he is or isn’t – there is one thing we can say for certain about the new Health Minister: he has absolutely no relevant training in public health administration or hospital management experience whatsoever, and appears thoroughly unqualified for his new role as head of the Greek public health system (or what is left of it).
And it is a telling sign of the times that this one troubling fact will most likely be the one least discussed about Voridis.